Even for the usual fluctuating emotions of a baseball season, this Braves season has been unique. They went from a 17-7 start (pitchers: unequaled) to a 5-12 stretch (batters: unconscious) to three straight wins when they scored 20 runs but shouldn’t assume this signals a turnaround because, well, duh.
Baseball is unique among the sports in that there are so many games and teams play almost every day, leading to over-analysis.
“You just keep going,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday. “The old ‘I’ve got this game figured out’ or ‘Nobody’s got anything on me,’ or ‘I’m smarter than anybody else,’ that never crosses my mind. The baseball gods are listening. As soon as you say something stupid, they make you pay for it.”
There was bliss Tuesday night. The Braves beat Milwaukee 5-0. Julio Teheran, rocked in his previous start in San Francisco, threw a shutout. Justin Upton homered and drove in three runs. But we’ve learned to assume nothing about what happens next.
If the winning continues, general manager Frank Wren’s job gets easier as general manger. But if this is just another brief climb before the next drop, questions about the team’s long-term success will continue. If the Braves don’t ultimately straighten things out, it’s debatable whether they have many viable options with the roster moving forward.
It’s no secret Wren has locked the organization into a number of long-term contracts, some that make sense (Teheran, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons), some that have exploded in his face (B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla).
It wouldn’t seem Wren has a lot of roster flexibility. He said Tuesday he doesn’t want to get into a habit of publicly analyzing his roster on a daily basis. Understandable. But when I asked him if, in reality, there was little the Braves could do beyond tweak the lineup, change the batting order or call up a player from the minors should the ups and down continue, he responded with a flat denial.
“That’s not the reality. There are always things you do,” he said.
But major moves?
“There are always things you can do.”
I would just think because of the contracts …
“There are always things you can do.”
You’re saying that pretty firmly.
“I’m not going to get into another roster and hitting discussion. I just think we’re in that mode where we have to have patience. You watch and observe.”
One of two things is going on here. Either Wren doesn’t want it out there that he’s really stuck and he sinks or swims with this team, or he really believes there are options available to him.
Uggla is a mess. He hasn’t nearly lived up to expectations set by the five-year, $62 million contract Wren gave him. He was left off the playoff roster last year and could’ve been had by any team in the offseason for crumbs. Realistic scenario: Wren has only two options with Uggla — play him or release him because he’s not bringing anything in a trade.
B.J. Upton is a mess. He hasn’t nearly lived up the expectations set by the five-year, $75.25 million contract Wren gave him. The only reason he’s playing and Uggla isn’t is because there’s so much time (more than 3 1/2 seasons) and money (about $55 million) left on Upton’s contract. The Braves still feel compelled to try to get something out of him. Realistic scenario: The Braves start Upton or put a $15 million-a-year player on the bench because he’s not going to be released and he can’t be traded.
There are players with value the Braves probably would not move: Freeman, Simmons, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and starting pitchers Teheran, Mike Minor and Ervin Santana.
That leaves a young starter like Alex Wood or David Hale, second base prospect Tommy La Stella or catching prospect Christian Bethancourt. But Wren has balked at trading young arms in the past, it’s debatable whether Wood, Hale or La Stella would bring a major piece in return and dealing Bethancourt would mean the Braves are making a lot of assumptions about Evan Gattis’ future.
If Wren feels the need to change the complexion of this team and spinning a major trade, he might have to deal Heyward or Justin Upton, both of whom will be free agents after the 2015 season. I don’t see that happening.
Conclusion: This is your team, Braves fans. They win or lose with this bunch. They either figure things out offensively or hope Washington doesn’t eventually get healthy and hot and pass them by.
There have been some positive signs lately. Heyward, Freeman, Justin Upton and Simmons are swinging the bat better. The Braves had a three-run third inning against Milwaukee Tuesday that included a Simmons homer and a two-run single by Upton, who then homered in the fifth
This game followed wins over St. Louis and Milwaukee in which the Braves scored 15 runs on 22 hits — like some alternate universe.
“I think we’re in a good place,” hitting coach Greg Walker said. “We just can’t get frustrated again and we got frustrated for a long period of time.”
Gonzalez was asked when he gets a sense whether a team is coming together.
“I don’t think you ever do,” he said. “When you’re in a losing streak, you always feel like you’re going to break out of it. When you’re on a winning streak, you’re always on guard. You’re always grinding. You don’t enjoy it. It’s not fun.”
There’s a good chance they’ll keep us guessing all season.
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